“Nobody seemed to be interested,” Kamuda says. “I wanted to throw in the towel.”
But now Kamuda, 72, president of the renamed Titanic Historical Society of Indian Orchard, Mass., finds himself besieged with interview requests as he tries to survive the Titanic centennial. This has become a media event as huge and flamboyant as the great ship that lies in ragged ruin at the bottom of the Atlantic.
The Titanic has never been bigger. The story has defied the rules of history, brightening rather than fading with time. Most historical events turn into drab textbook subjects about which the main question is whether this will be on the test. Not the Titanic. A century after the ship hit an iceberg late on the night of April 14, 1912, and three years after the death of the last Titanic survivor, the disaster feels as familiar as if it happened yesterday.
The serious Titanic buffs could find their way around the ship in the dark.
The centennial has seen an eruption of books, articles, films, museum exhibits, memorial services, ocean cruises and, of course, the 3-D version of the 1997 James Cameron movie that won an armload of Oscars. And there’s another layer of commemoration, the meta layer — the discussion of why we’re discussing this at all. The Titanic has become a case study in what the folks in the faculty lounge would call mythogenesis.
To say that it is a mythic disaster does not mean that it was somehow imaginary. The real event was a super-sized tragedy that took the lives of at least 1,500 people (the exact number is unclear) and featured dramatic elements that no fiction writer would be shameless enough to concoct.
This was the world’s largest ship taking its maiden voyage. The passengers represented a stratified society in miniature. At top were the first-class passengers, many of them famous millionaires, or aristocrats with names like Sir Cosmo Duff Gordon. Below were the second-class passengers, and then lower still the third class — distinctions that would have profound consequences in survival rates. (First-class men, though collectively glorified for letting steerage women and children go first in the lifeboats, actually survived at a higher rate than the third-class children).
A lookout spotted the iceberg a little before 11:40 p.m. At the last moment the ship swung to port, and the iceberg, looming some 100 feet above the water, ripped a gash along the starboard side below the water line, rupturing five watertight compartments.